Wendy Greuel addresses the media outside a fire station in Venice last month. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles…)
The alliance between Los Angeles mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel and the Department of Water and Power workforce strengthened Wednesday as a committee run by leaders of the utility's main union launched TV advertising to buttress her candidacy just as she reduces her own spending on television ads.
Working Californians to Elect Wendy Greuel, a committee controlled by the union's leadership, bought about $500,000 worth of TV airtime over the next week to run commercials, starting with a 30-second spot featuring former President Bill Clinton.
The latest round of advertising by the independent committee comes as the city controller is facing campaign cash-flow pressures that have forced her to cut back on TV advertising less than three weeks before the May 21 election. Typically, candidates gradually escalate the volume of their advertising in the final weeks before an election.
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The new ad spending by the DWP union and its allies allows Greuel to maintain her presence on the air. But it also carries risk when her rival, City Councilman Eric Garcetti, is saying his opponent can't be trusted to safeguard the city's interests in collective bargaining.
"Their synchronized ad buys reveal that Greuel and the DWP union are together trying to take over L.A. City Hall so they can hike DWP rates and give massive raises and pensions to DWP employees," Garcetti spokesman Jeff Millman said.
Greuel has said campaign spending by the DWP union would have no influence on her as mayor. Her chief strategist, John Shallman, denied synchronizing her advertising with the union committee's.
"That's just ridiculous," he said. Independent committees can raise and spend unlimited sums, but are barred by law from coordinating with the candidates they support. Direct donations to mayoral candidates are capped at $1,300.
Shallman said that Greuel, trailing in the polls, needed to advertise heavily over the last couple of weeks to gain support among voters mailing in their ballots. With so many voters casting ballots early, he said, it no longer makes sense to delay full advertising until the end of a campaign.
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He also said Greuel faced no cash troubles and was raising money aggressively.
The Working Californians television spot seeks to maximize the benefit of one of the candidate's strongest assets: her endorsement by Clinton.
"You want somebody who hit it out of the park every time she had a job, by getting something done that changed somebody else's life," Clinton says, seated next to a smiling Greuel in front of a wall covered in campaign signs. "That's what I think about Wendy. I have seen her get things done."
The Working Californians committee has collected $3.3 million to support Greuel's bid, including $1.45 million from the DWP union, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18.
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The ad was filmed at an invitation-only gathering at Langer's Deli in late April. The iconic Los Angeles restaurant closed early so Greuel and Clinton could hold a town hall with supporters who dined on pastrami sandwiches as they asked questions of the duo. The location was kept secret for security. But Sean Clegg, the top campaign strategist for Working Californians, said he learned about the time and place through social media and sent a film crew that was allowed in. A spokesman for Greuel's campaign said it had no knowledge that the crew was there.
"After word got out about the time and location for the event, we couldn't police which cameras ended up getting into the event," said Greuel campaign spokesman Dave Jacobson.
Since the March 5 primary, Greuel has been raising less money than Garcetti, but spending at a faster pace, campaign finance reports show.
Garcetti has reported raising about $2 million, while Greuel has reported collecting about $1.6 million. The precise amounts are uncertain, because the candidates have not yet disclosed most of the smaller donations that they received in April.
But in the month ending April 6, reports show, Greuel was spending at nearly triple the rate of Garcetti. On average, she spent $15,758 per day, while Garcetti spent $5,357.
Since then, Greuel's spending has accelerated sharply. She spent roughly $1.5 million on television advertising and a large sum — not yet disclosed — on a glossy 36-page brochure that was sent to more than 100,000 voters.
By contrast, Garcetti has spent about $1 million on TV ads. He also has continued his ads at a steady pace, while the frequency of Greuel's spots has decreased in recent days.